Readers on the cusp of adolescence will find much to love in this middle grade novel from the author of the beloved MR. TERUPT series that follows three kids who come to realize that letting go of childhood means boldly taking risks to face the future while learning from the past.
Loretta and her twin brother, Waylon, are headed to middle school. Loretta has always been quick with her fists and her wits. Since Waylon is on the small side, Loretta doesn’t let anyone mess with him. But now she worries he won’t survive without her by his side. Her secret plan: bulk him up with muscle over the summer. Little does she know that Waylon has a plan of his own. He’ll show his sister he can take care of himself.
As each puts their strategy in motion, Loretta and Waylon spend the summer going into the woods behind their house, even sneaking there in the dead of night. That’s where they first encounter Louie, who is about their age but noticeably bigger. Louie is homeschooled, he explains when Loretta gives him the third degree. Loretta, Waylon, and Louie soon fall into a comfortable friendship and continue their nightly forest adventures. When they unearth a mysterious box, the past collides with the present, propelling the trio on a quest that will forever change their lives.
Rob Buyea’s spirited dual narrative drives this funny, touching brother-sister story, where even the best-laid plans sometimes backfire and feelings may get bruised, but family and friends always count. Letting go of childhood means boldly taking risks to face the future while learning from the past.
An Excerpt fromThe Daredevils
A Girl Named Loretta
So much happened over the summer, but some things never change. If you’ve got a problem with my name, we’re gonna take it outside. You’ll shut your mouth after I get done slapping the stupid out of you. That’s still the same.
It’s not like I don’t know Loretta is an old-lady name. My father happens to be a huge fan of classic country music, okay, and Loretta Lynn was one of the queens of country back in the day, a real icon, a true inspiration, so I was supposed to be honored. Well, I’ve got news for you. When you spend your life dealing with people making comments about your name, it’s hard to feel that way--cursed was more like it.
My overly agreeable mother was just as much to blame as my father. She let Dad have his way because it was either that or she worried he’d try naming my twin brother Sue. If you don’t get that joke, it’s because you haven’t been tortured by the same music as me. Johnny Cash, aka the Man in Black, another country music icon, had a famous song called “A Boy Named Sue.” Give it a listen. It’s all about how a father naming his son Sue made the kid tough because of the obvious harassment the boy had to endure for the rest of his life. If it sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is, but don’t laugh. By naming me Loretta, my father achieved the same outcome. I had no choice but to sharpen my fists.
Anyways, long story short, I got tagged with Loretta and my brother got stuck with Waylon. Mom thought a modern name like Matthew or Nathan didn’t go well with Loretta, so she picked a throwback for my brother too. Dad was thrilled because Waylon Jennings happened to be yet another country music icon, but Mom didn’t choose Waylon to please my father. She did it because it was her grandfather’s name--my great-grandfather--and he was somebody Mom loved. (More on him later.)
Unfortunately, the name Waylon didn’t do anything to help make my brother tough--far from it--but that was okay because I had his back. My brother had been born smaller and weaker than me, so I owed him that much. Say something about me and we’ll take it outside; mess with Waylon and I’ll stuff your head up your rear end. You think I’m all talk? Just ask Leon Hurd.
A Boy Named Waylon
My mother is a veterinarian, so she’s very knowledgeable about animals. She claimed I was an armapossum, which is the combination of an armadillo and an opossum. She reached this conclusion for two main reasons: (1) I’m on the smaller size, fifth percentile for my height and fourth for my weight, and (2) I’ve got thick skin--like the armadillo. I didn’t let teasing bother me. When kids tried to pick on me, I just ignored them--similar to how an opossum plays dead. It was a solid strategy. Eventually, the bad guys left me alone.
Disclaimer: Being an armapossum only worked if Loretta wasn’t around, which wasn’t often since we’re twins.
My sister was a wolf. But not just any wolf. She was the alpha wolf, quick to protect her pack--me--and not afraid of anything. If she was anywhere nearby when the teasing or bullying began, she put an end to it in a hurry--her way, which wasn’t always pretty.
Being twins meant Loretta and I had been together since the beginning. All throughout elementary school, she was always there to stick up for me--but that was about to change. Seventh grade would have us attending the middle school, where we might not ever see each other during the day. There were no two ways about it. I had this summer to show my sister I was capable of taking care of myself--so she could stop worrying.
When I was younger, it never bothered me when she came to my rescue, but I didn’t always want her jumping in anymore. That being said, I will admit, I was beyond grateful to have the wolf on my side the day I got tangled up with Leon Hurd.
Leon Hurd Falls
Leon Hurd was your classic schoolyard bully. He was repeating sixth grade after having already repeated first. It was rumored that he shaved, and that he liked fights. No one knew whether the shaving thing was true, but there was no doubt he liked fights. He was notorious for shouting “Hurd’s the man!” after each of his daily triumphs. Everyone was scared of him--until me.
Since Leon was in a different classroom, he and I almost made it through sixth grade without incident, but then the inevitable happened. There was a day near the end of the school year--not that long ago, actually--when all of sixth grade was outside for free time. (Being sixth graders, we were too old to call it recess.) I was shooting hoops on the blacktop, and Waylon was sprawled out in the grass field rereading his favorite book, My Side of the Mountain, for probably the hundredth time. I swear, my brother fantasized about being like Sam Gribley, the boy in the story who survives on his own in the Catskill Mountains for close to a year. Anyways, it was while I was shooting hoops and Waylon was reading when all you-know-what broke loose. Leon didn’t see my brother and tripped and fell over him while playing Frisbee. You can bet Leon was madder than a rabid dog after that, especially when he heard kids laughing. He grabbed my brother and yanked him to his feet.
“I’m gonna hang you from the monkey bars by your ponytail, you little twerp!” he roared.
FYI--Waylon’s ponytail hung clear to his butt crack. It was beyond excessive, if you asked me, and was the result of his obsession with anything outdoorsman or wilderness-related. (More on that later.)
“But I didn’t do anything,” Waylon cried.
The instant my brother’s voice reached me, I dropped my basketball and took off running.
“Shut up, momma’s boy!” Leon growled.
“But I didn’t do anything,” Waylon pleaded.
“I said shut up!”
The laughing onlookers grew silent. Things had gone from funny to serious.
“You’re hurting me!” Waylon whined.
My brother was in trouble.
“Hey, Leon!” I called as I drew near.
As soon as he turned in my direction, I whipped a handful of dirt in his face--a trick I’d learned from watching Indiana Jones.
“Ahh!” Leon yelled, releasing Waylon and rubbing his eyes.
With the bully blinded and his hands out of the way, he was no match for me. I kicked him in the shins as hard as I could. He dropped to the ground after two blows--one for each leg.
Waylon ran, but I stepped closer and stood over the pile of wimp. “Hurd’s a turd!” I shouted across the schoolyard.
Laughter and cheers filled the air, followed by the repeated echo of my now-infamous victory call.
“Hurd’s a turd!”
“Hurd’s a turd!”
“Hurd’s a turd!” rang over and over.
Leon never told on me because admitting he’d been bested by a girl would’ve been more embarrassing than getting whupped by one in the first place, and no one else told because they didn’t want Leon coming after them--and also because everyone was happy to see him get what he deserved.
The moral of this story: Don’t mess with my brother.
Loretta Lynn’s most-famous song was “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” It’s still considered to be one of the greatest country songs of all time. It was better than “A Boy Named Sue,” I’d give it that, but my praise stopped there. Besides, my father wasn’t a coal miner. He was a shrink. A head doctor. A psychologist. A joke and waste of money as I’d heard my jerk gym teacher, P.E. Bubba, grumble too many times--but there was a history there. (More on that later.) For now, let me just say that I disagreed. My father was very good at his job--and I knew because of our frequent chats.
You see, while Mom left the house to go to her veterinarian job, Dad worked from home, so us chatting was convenient--and necessary, he would claim. I won’t waste time arguing that point because what’s important here is that you understand Dad’s office was attached to our house, which was where he saw his patients.
This also explains why my brother and I were regularly and unfairly subjected to his awful taste in music--and terrible singing to boot. Every morning we had to suffer through the likes of Conway Twitty and George Jones, only to be made worse by my father’s bellowing as he paraded around the kitchen getting his coffee and our breakfasts together. I would’ve skipped eating to avoid the torture, but Dad was big on breakfast being the most important meal of the day, so he made us attend before catching the bus. Worst of all was the fact that his position on this matter didn’t waver during summer, but thanks to Mom, he did compromise and push the start time back an hour so that we didn’t have to get up quite as early. Even so, I was still rubbing the sleep from my eyes when I plopped down at the table on Monday morning.
“Loretta, I’d like to have a chat with you after you’re done eating,” Dad said, sliding a waffle onto my plate.
Waylon glanced at me from behind his book--Harry Potter #7--and smirked. My brother didn’t need as much beauty sleep as me. Enough said.
“About what?” I grumbled.
“Life,” he answered.
I groaned and rolled my eyes. “Dad, really? Today is my first day of summer vacation.”
“I know. We need to talk about that too.”
Waylon snorted, and I flicked a piece of waffle at him.
“Don’t think you’re getting off so easy, Waylon. We’ll be chatting later.”
“About what?” my brother asked.
“Your sister,” Dad wisecracked. The two of them had a good laugh, thinking they were so funny.
I ignored them and drizzled syrup over my waffle. Silently, I began planning for my chat with Dad. Obviously, he had something he wanted to talk about--but so did I. This was the perfect opportunity for me to renegotiate my summer contract.
My parents weren’t any different than most. They were boomers. The whole point behind the summer contracts that they created for Waylon and me was to get us away from technology and screens--and outside, like they had grown up, because somehow that was always better.
I will say, as much as my brother loved adventure and the outdoors, the video game world was still strong enough to suck him in for hours at a time, so the contract was good for him--though I’d never admit that to the boomers.
On the other hand, if we were talking about me, then not so good. Currently, I was limited to one movie or three shows per day. I wanted to push it to two movies or four shows. You see, while Dad’s fascination was country music and my brother’s was anything outdoorsman or wilderness-related, mine was movies.
The Star Wars saga was probably my favorite, but the one that captured our family best was Back to the Future. Ever see it? Do yourself a favor and watch the movie before listening to any of the old songs I’ve mentioned. Back to the Future is one of those classics that your parents like to say you must see, except the difference is this one is actually really good.
So my dad played the role of the crazy mad scientist named Doc. Enough said. And Mom played the mom. Waylon was the nerd, George McFly. And I played the role of Marty--the hero and leader, and George’s protector. Just like in the movie, it was up to me to turn things around for Waylon. In the movie, Marty travels back in time to help George. I planned on helping my brother in real time.
You see, being twins meant Waylon and I had been together since the beginning, and this was especially important for Waylon because if it weren’t for me my weakling brother might not have survived elementary school--and that truth left me with only one option. There were no two ways about it. I had the summer to toughen Waylon up, because after that we were fresh meat in the middle school, where I wasn’t going to be able to look out for him. I might not even see him during the day. As dumb as Leon Hurd proved to be, I knew he wouldn’t forget about the embarrassment he’d suffered at my feet, and as soon as he caught Waylon without me around, my brother would be a dead man.
Bottom line: this summer was going to be my most important yet.
But first, my chat with Dad . . .
A Summer What?
Our house was actually the same house that my dad had grown up in. My grandparents left it to him in their will. Dad’s office was once a sunroom before becoming his bedroom back in the day, and something told me it didn’t look any better now than it did when he was a kid. One peek inside and you could see he was in desperate need of an assistant, which was something Mom had been trying to get him to agree to. The place was in complete disarray. He was still working out of the boxes he’d packed from when we moved in two years ago.
“How can you function like this?” I asked, stepping around the mess.
“It might look bad, but I know where everything is,” he claimed.
“Is that so?”
“Yes, now have a seat and stop trying to distract me.”
Dad pushed a few things out of the way and sat in his armchair while I hopped in the recliner reserved for patients. “You should hire an assistant to help you get this joint under control.”
“Now you sound like your mother. Not necessary and not interested,” he replied.
“I could do it for . . . let’s say . . . fifty bucks an hour.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
I watched him pat his pockets and then glance over at his desk. “Looking for something?” I asked.
“Can’t seem to find my glasses,” he mumbled.
“Try your head,” I said. “You know where everything is, huh?”
He made a face, then reached up and found them. After he had his glasses situated, we got down to business. “Loretta, your mother and I have talked.”
Of course they had. Our chats always started this way. Mom and Dad were an inseparable team, always on the same page. It was so annoying. Next he would mention something about me getting into trouble, and then I would have to remind him it wasn’t my fault. He and Mom had gifted my brother with a special talent for building things--traps were Waylon’s favorite. You should’ve seen the shoebox mousetrap he rigged up so that he could catch and release the little critter we had in our last house. The thing involved fishing line and toothpicks and his old Tinker Toys. It looked like an engineering project--and it worked!